"This guy had more quotes than Shakespeare," said John Malandra, retired group supervisor with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
But instead of poetic verses, a man using the alias of Alex Dave wanted quotes for how much it would cost to buy sensitive military technologies. In reality, Alex Dave was Amir Ardebili, an Iranian arms dealer.
The multi-year operation to catch him, dubbed Operation Shakespeare, began in 2004 and continued until late 2007.
"He was trying to get controlled technology illegally," said P.J. Lechleitner, the case agent turned undercover agent. "He was fishing everywhere, but no one could get him." Up until that point, HSI primarily focused its efforts on American companies and individuals selling protected technologies overseas. Operation Shakespeare marked a change in how HSI conducted counter proliferation investigations; more specifically, who investigations targeted.
Malandra said the agents shifted their focus away from Americans reaching out, concentrating instead on global threats.
Defense articles and sensitive technologies are governed by a series of export laws, many of which were created to prevent these items from entering the hands of U.S. adversaries like Ardebili, who contacted companies in the military technology industry to do business. For at least two years, Lechleitner, posing as a broker for these technologies, communicated with Ardebili through faxes, emails and phone calls.
In 2007, Lechleitner arranged an in-person meeting in the country of Georgia, which was coordinated with the government there. Georgian law enforcement arrested Ardebili, and he was later extradited to the United States to face criminal proceedings for circumventing U.S. export laws.
"It was the perfect example of the transnational work we do," said Lechleitner. "No other agency has the international relationships or partnerships we do. And no one else could've pulled it off like we did."
Ardebili served several years in federal prison before being removed to Georgia in 2012. Operation Shakespeare is profiled in a new book bearing the same title by John Shiffman.
Learn more about counter proliferation investigations.